A ten-member research group is working on collecting the letters of József Eötvös within the Institute of History in the Humanities Research Centre (BTK) of the ELKH. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the stateman's death, András Cieger, Senior Research Fellow, reported on the results of the research so far, writes the MTI.

József Eötvös was a writer and poet, who also served as Minister for Religion and Public Education in the Batthyány Government, and the Andrássy Government. He was the President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) and the Kisfaludy Society, and the father of the world-famous Hungarian scientist Loránd Eötvös. He died 150 years ago on 2 February 1871. Pestbuda wrote about his legacy a few days ago. 

Portrait of József Eötvös, painting by Mór Adler (Source: elkh.org/hu)

The idea of collecting and publishing a critical edition of his diverse oeuvre was formulated in 1971 by József Antall, a researcher of his political work,  who later became prime minister, recalls András Cieger, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of History within the ELKH Research Centre for the Humanities.

József Antall tried to obtain financial support for the collection as the deputy director of the Semmelweis Museum and Library of Medical History. He entrusted his friend, literary historian Ambrus Oltványi with the work. Eventually, 350 letters by József Eötvös were published in the Szépirodalmi Kiadó's oeuvre series. After the death of Ambrus Oltványi in 1983, there was no one to continue the work he had begun.

Subsequently, in 2015, a research group led by Gábor Gángó (BTK Institute of Philosophy) was organized to collect and publish the letters of József Eötvös to expand existing knowledge about the baron's activities and thinking about his time. The project, now led by András Cieger, continues with the participation of several researchers and the financial support of the National Office for Research, Development and Innovation (NKFI).

According to the report, compared to the 350 letters published in 1976, the research team currently has roughly four thousand letters, some of which will only be printed in short summaries. In a new approach, the publications will also contain extant replies to Eötvös, allowing readers to reconstruct changes in personal and political issues.

As a result of research carried out in European public collections, the map of Eötvös' foreign scientific connections has been expanded. Eötvös relied on these connections as Vice-president and later, President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Eötvös's correspondence with various church leaders about school affairs, the question of Catholic autonomy, or the functioning of the Jewish Congress has also come to light.

Statue of József Eötvös on the riverbank in Budapest The sculpture was created by Adolf Huszár, the pedestal designed by Miklós Ybl (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)

The research of the past years has led to other results: hitherto unknown sources of Eötvös's life (travel diaries, poems, diaries written by contemporaries) have also been discovered in the search for the letters.

According to the statement, the five to seven-volume series will allow readers to understand how Hungarian academia and science became a profession. Readers will see that dozens of educational reform ideas competed in 1848, from nurseries to universities. The ideas about the relationship of church and state after 1867 and the dilemmas and compromises of the liberal government are also presented in detail.       

The birth of Hungarian state administration is also touched upon. Also, by researching changes in his state of mind or language use, new portions of a long-missing, comprehensive Eötvös biography can be unravelled.

The research group plans to publish the first volume in 2023, on the 210th anniversary of the statesman's birth. The final volume will be published in 2026.

Source: MTI

Cover photo: Statue of József Eötvös (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)

Read our previous article: The man who introduced compulsory education – 150-year anniversary on József Eötvös's death